Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Grocery Savings

This is a brief summary of how I have been able to slash my grocery bill by more than half. I feed our family of 7-8, including four teenagers, for $200 every two weeks. I've done tons of reading and gleaned the best strategies for what will work for my family. I should say at the outset that we have a number of food sensitivities in our family. My daughter and I can't have gluten, and I do best with as few grains as possible. My daughter can't have cane sugar in any form. If we didn't have these restrictions, I am sure we could do even better.

1) Buy in bulk. Sometimes you can do better just waiting for sales, but other times it pays to buy in bulk. I never see brown rice, dry beans, wheat berries, etc, go on sale for less than bulk in my area, so I always buy them in bulk from Azure Standard. I usually spend about $100-150 per month there. They are a great source of bulk organic produce as well. I buy my organic apples, oranges, potatoes, and onions there for less than what I can usually find conventional produce at our local grocery store. BTW, when I say buy in bulk, I do NOT mean Sam's Club. There are a few things there that are a good deal, like the large cans of crushed tomatoes, but often I can beat them using loss leaders or Azure Standard. You have to know your prices. I don't have a price book written down, yet (hangs head in shame) but I have a good one in my head.

2) Make everything, and I do mean EVERYTHING from scratch. And not just things like cream soups and spaghetti sauce. I have started making home-made tortillas, peanut butter, yogurt, etc etc from scratch. With a little bit of family cooperation it doesn't take that much longer and the savings are significant. It is worthwhile to invest in appliances that make the job easier. Remember, the Proverbs woman had her servants. Mine are my appliances! The nice thing about making things from scratch is that you can make organic versions for less than the store bought non-organic versions. Eating organic as much as possible is important to us, but we would go broke in a hurry if we bought the many organic convenience foods available.

Because I am gluten intolerant, I have my 10 year old son bake our bread. I pay him a quarter a loaf. It is worth it to me not to get sick and he loves earning some money. His bread is really great too!

3) Meal plan from the pantry. I never used to meal plan, and I admit I don't really like to do it now. But my family loves to see that list posted on the fridge and anticipate the good meal they will have. Best of all, my older children will often pitch in and start supper when they know what is on the menu. But, rather than plan my meals and then go shopping, I just shop the sales and to restock my pantry, and I plan my meals from what is in my pantry and freezer. I should add that we are a meat-eating family. We eat meat every day. I buy the loss leaders and we also buy bulk meat from local producers.

4) Bulk Cook. I am a working mother of six homeschooled children. I defy you to find very many women who are busier than I am. Quite often, I used to feel sorry for myself, or just plain worn out, and that is when the frozen pizza and hot pockets would appear on the table. By always at least doubling what I am making, I always have a meal in the freezer that my children or husband can pull out and heat up. This is really my secret weapon! It is no more work to double a recipe than to cook one batch. Every once in awhile I do a big OAMC cooking session, but most often I do mini sessions every few weeks when I bring home a bunch of meat from the store. Even cooking six batches of chili is not much more work than cooking one.

5) Shop the sales, mostly the loss leaders. I don't do coupons because I rarely buy anything that comes in a box or a can. By mostly buying loss leaders and the lowest price produce each week, I can save more money than coupons, and the work they entail, ever would.

6) Quit using paper products. We use cloth in place of napkins, paper towels, and....yes....toilet paper. No, it is not gross. One queen sized flannel sheet, bought at the thrift store for $5, will take the place of toilet paper for at least a year.

7) Make your own cleaning and beauty products. So far I have made laundry soap, Dishwasher soap, and deodorant. Soon I will branch out to toothpaste and shampoo, as soon as we use up what we have. Again, it is much cheaper to make your own than to buy the organic versions, which is what we were doing before.

8) Learn to be satisfied with simple food. There are women out there who make a home-cooked breakfast and lunch as well as supper. More power to them, but I will probably never be that woman. My children are old enough to fix themselves eggs and toast or oatmeal and I tell them they need to be satisfied with that. There are people in this world who eat the same three or four foods day in and day out because that is all they have. We are blessed with such abundance in our nation. For lunch, there is nothing wrong with a peanut butter sandwich or leftovers.

9) Limit the goodies, as a continuation of #8. For most of the history of man, desserts and sweets were only consumed on feast days or special holidays. I don't get having an abundance of sweets and desserts available every day. You can go too far in the opposite direction, I realize. My mom limited our diets a great deal when I was growing up, and my brother and I went wild when we left home, and have battled weight problems because of it. But now I only make dessert once in awhile, and my children will bake cookies or a cake only once or twice a week as a snack. We use almond flour, which costs $4 a pound, so you can see why we limit it.

Future plans include having a garden and learning to dry food. That should make next winter's meals even nicer. I am also working on wasting less food and getting a better handle on what is in my freezer and pantry. I have lots of room for improvement there!


  1. You have some really good ideas. I incorporate some of them and would like to incorporate others, but am meeting resistance with my family. How did you get your family (mainly DH) to go along with things like cloth toilet paper, less snacks/sweets, simple food, etc.?

  2. My dh won't do the cloth TP yet, but he has promised to try. As for the other things, he is a really healthy eater, more than I am, so that was no problem. He would probably like a little more variety, but he fixes his own breakfast and lunch so I guess that is up to him. He had a mom who made home-cooked meals three times a day so that was what he was used to. In my family, we lived on cold cereal, sandwiches, and leftovers, so we both had to make adjustments!

  3. Hi. Thanks for the post. You mentioned about making your own shampoo. I did this for almost a year, and I loved it. I will tell you where I got it. Carolyn at http://simplynaturalskin.com/ has an article under "hair" that talks about how she quit using shampoo. Basically all she uses is baking powder and honey (for dark hair like mine). My hair never felt so soft and silky. You should check it out. The only thing about it is, if you have hard water, it doesn't seem to work. This made me sad when I moved and I discovered this fact. Hope this helps.

  4. Wow, I really appreciate this post! I am just now coming into a place where we have to severely limit our budget....as a family of 8, will be 9 this summer, I don't have teenagers, but we do eat quite a bit of fresh produce. Our budget is $480 for 1 month and that includes toiletries - due to heavy couponing. I think I can cut it down even more, and am excited to launch into the world of LOTS of beans (per your previous post) and rice, eliminating more meat from our diet.

    I've added your blog to my favorites and am looking forward to reading more to get better ideas. I too hate menu planning - I LOVE to cook but I always "feel" like cooking something different according to how I feel that day. I hate putting myself in a box. But there's always room for change and that's why I was so interested in your post. Thanks for sharing!

  5. Thanks for the comments and also the link to the shampoo. I will have to check it out. Right now I have a pretty good stockpile of Suave, but when that is gone, it's gone. I want to stick to the natural stuff as much as possible. I have dark hair too, but it is mysteriously getting lots of silver threads in it. I think my children sneak in to my room at night with silver paint!

  6. I really loved your blog post today. We are a family of 7 and our grocery budget including toiletries and diapers for 9 month old twins is around $400 a month. We ONLY shop once a month. If I forgot it - too bad. We also have dietary restrictions. We do not eat casein (dairy), wheat, egg or mushrooms. Our oldest has autism and is very picky about texture. Our twins have just started eating (and I am making my own baby food. I try to cook everything from scratch. We buy in bulk (large restaurant quantities when we can). It's way cheaper. Thanks for sharing.

  7. Sounds like you've got a great plan! We have many diet restrictions, including gluten. Makes it impossible to have a $40/week grocery budget, but we're finding ways of making it work.

    I wish we were able to get Azure Standard here! Maybe someday. . .

    BTW, I found your blog from the RDE yahoo group.

  8. HI! it's me again! I'm so glad that you are going to try to use somethings to help your thyroid anyway...you can always search online too to see what foods help it or make it worse!
    I loved this post...because of my thyroid, we decided to change EVERYTHING we eat...going totally natural and organic and learning to make everything from scratch. I used AS for the fisrt time last month and hope to order again soon.
    I was curious as to what loss leader was? (I think that is what you called it) I'm hoping it can help me save even more money. I feel like we are spending more than I like right now as I am still learning to make things from scratch.
    you might enjoy the blog passionatehomemaking.com
    lots of great info!

  9. Hi Tarena, a loss leader is the sale items usually found on the front page of your grocery ad, usually in BIG PRINT. These items are marked down, sometimes even at a loss to the store, in order to lure you in to buy all the other stuff not on sale. If you stick to just buying loss leaders as much as possible, you can really save the bucks. Keep your eye on the loss leaders as they are not always a super deal. That is where a price book comes in handy.